"Were we to know the merit and value of only going from one street to another to serve a neighbour for the love of God, we should prize it more than silver and gold." - Edmund Rice

Written by Patrick Walker


edmund rice house.jpg
The childhood home of Edmund Rice in Callan, Ireland.

Edmund Rice is the founder of the Presentation Brothers and (Irish) Christian Brothers. These Brothers have founded and maintained hundreds of schools worldwide maintaining Edmund’s spirit and tradition of charity, education, community, and social justice.
Edmund Ignatius Rice was born on the first of June 1762 in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland . Edmund and his six siblings were born when the Irish Penal Laws were enforced, leaving Catholics nowhere to practice religion or to gain education. From an early age Edmund was taught to care for the poor by his mother Margaret[1] . Edmund was educated secretly in a hedge school by an Augustinian Friar Patrick Grace. His education sparked him to move to Waterford and pursue business with his uncle Michael, who was a merchant. His apprenticeship with his uncle it showed that Edmund had a knack for business and trade, and at age 24 he became the manager of his uncle’s company[2] .
While Edmund thrived in the business world, he married a merchant’s daughter Mary Elliot. While pregnant with their child, she was involved in a tragic horse accident, which killed her. The child was born prematurely on Mary’s deathbed and was born with severe disabilities. In the wake of these tragic events Edmund was sought for something more than his business career. He loved and cared for his daughter and was inspired to care for those less fortunate and oppressed.
With this new inspiration and mindset, he opened his heart to the poor and oppressed. He set out to eliminate poverty by providing a Catholic education to boys in Ireland that were falling through institutional cracks. Edmund found the inspiration from his Catholic faith and opened two schools in Ireland. He served the poor until he died at the age of 76 at Mount Sion in Waterford Ireland. His efforts to educate and serve the poor led to the finding of The Irish Christian Brothers, and Presentation Brothers.

Challenge discussion:

Edmund Rice had many personal and institutional challenges throughout his life. When he was a merchant in Waterford he was living a very lavish life as a businessman. He was born into a large Irish family and thrived in business at his uncle’s trade business in Waterford. Only four years into their marriage, Mary is tragically injured in a horse related accident. After she is taken to a hospital she delivers a girl named Mary who is born with sever disabilities. Edmund’s life is flipped upside down by this event, but develops a love and special place in his heart for the poor and disadvantaged. Seeing his daughter suffer with disabilities made Edmund dedicate his life to the oppressed and poor. He could not let others suffer There are many directions where he could have gone when he was at a crossroads, but he chose one that shows his overwhelming love for others. His acts of charity and education are ones that are unusual in a wake of such a tragedy.

The institutional challenge that Edmund faced was that of religious oppression in Ireland through the Penal Laws. Edmund Burke, a western philosopher described them as, “ a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man[3] ”. The impoverished Irish Catholics were not given a voice and were oppressed by British law. There were many laws that set him back from his journey, but he wrote to Pope Pius VI for advice. The Holy Father encouraged him in his efforts to educate the poor in Waterford[4] . Edmund had to face this challenge head on and set up secret schools in Waterford. These schools gave the children the liberty of education, and virtues that come with a Catholic education.

Cultural Ill:

The cultural Ill that Edmund faced was oppression of the poor. The children in Ireland were not allowed to gain an education because they were Catholic. The poor were unattended to and overlooked by the population of Waterford. Edmund knew that the only way he could fix the problem was through education. It was not about having them gain a degree or a certain standard. It was about giving the poor and oppressed a voice and purpose in this world. This education would not only teach them to learn and prosper, but also how to be Catholic citizens of the world.
The Penal laws in Ireland were still in effect and the only way Catholics could escape it would be to convert or to practice secretly. Edmund combated this cultural ill with his underground development of Brother schools that is still a movement today all around the world. These schools have Brothers that take a vow of poverty and teach to reach out to the poor just like Edmund did.

The virtue that Edmund exemplified with his work was charity. Thomas Aquinas defines charity as, “first and foremost friendship with God which serves to direct our love to others[5] ”. Edmund Rice was at a crossroads in his life when his wife died. He was found with an overwhelming urge to help the poor and help those who were in abject poverty. Instead of sulking in depression, he was inspired by God’s grace and presence. Edmund did not let his grief overcome him; instead he dedicated his life to serving others.

Choice worthy good:
edmund rice beatification.jpg
On October 6th, 1996 Edmund Rice was beatified in St. Peter's Square by Pope John Paul II.

In the wake of his family tragedy, Edmund seriously considered pursuing the priesthood in Rome. His friend once questioned him about this move saying, "So, you are thinking of burying yourself in a monastery on the Continent. Will you leave these poor boys uncared for? Can't you do something for them[6] ?”. This question would stick with Edmund all of his days and spark his future work with educating the poor. He not only chose to leave the business world, he chose not to be a Catholic priest as well. He could have gone to Rome and lived a normal life as a priest, but put his efforts towards the oppressed poor of Ireland.
This decision to devote his life to helping the poor was one that had much uncertainty. He would leave his thriving business behind, but he could not turn his back on the impoverished in Ireland. Edmund finally found what he was looking for and would serve others until his death in 1844. His desire to help the poor showed his contribution to the common good by advocating for disadvantaged children in Ireland. Though he never made it to Rome to become a priest he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996. The Pope stated, “"Here we have an outstanding model of a true lay apostle and a deeply committed Religious. Today, his spiritual sons, the Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers, continue his mission: a mission which he himself described in this simple and clear intention: 'Trusting in God's help, I hope to be able to educate these boys to be good Catholics and good citizens[7] ”.

  1. ^ http://www.ercbna.org/History/Edmund%20Rice.php
  2. ^ http://edmundrice.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128:the-life-of-edmund-rice-&catid=60:edrice-lives&directory=298
  3. ^ http://www.praoh.org/history/Articles/PenalLaws5_08.pdf
  4. ^ http://edmundrice.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128:the-life-of-edmund-rice-&catid=60:edrice-lives&directory=298
  5. ^ http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/405/charity.htm
  6. ^ http://edmundrice.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=128:the-life-of-edmund-rice-&catid=60:edrice-lives&directory=298
  7. ^ http://www.cfcvocations.org/